|'Thought bike' (Wired)|
Fast forward to 2009, and Shimano releases Di2, the electronic Dura Ace group. Having learned from the ZAP project, Shimano came pretty close to nailing Di2. The system is already in wide use in both the PRO peloton and the amateur ranks, and with the release of the electronic Ultegra group, the technology is nearly certain to secure a stable foothold in the market.
For all the success Shimano has seen with their electronic shifting system, many a consumer will still ask themselves: 'Do I want this...do I need this?' Sure, some will gravitate toward electronic systems for their wow-factor alone. Others will perceive an opportunity to increase performance. While Di2's performance is not night-and-day better than conventional Dura- Ace, riders do report it is very precise, some going as far as to say it is the 'pinnacle of shifting technology.' Tubulars perform better than clinchers too, but its up to the rider to decide whether the performance gains these technologies offer outweight their added cost, complexity, and when things go wrong, inconvenience?
For my riding, electronic systems are not justified. That is, for a regular road bike or mountain bike application. However, if I were taking time trialling very seriously, I could see myself attracted to using a toggle switch on the aero bars. This would eliminate the bar end shifters on the bars, and actually make shifting easier. I doubt the aerodynamic savings would be significant, nor would the ease of shifting be drastically improved; however, there would be gains. At least there is a rationale for using this technology.
While bike companies are working on integrating elecronic shifting systems into road bike designs, others are dreaming up novel ideas for how to apply these technologies in yet bolder ways. One recent example had me checking the story's date to see whether it was recycled from April 1. Why? Because the project featured in the story is ludicrous: Toyota Prius Bicycle.
Posted on Bikerumor.com, the Prius X Parlee (PXP) is indeed the answer to the question NOBODY was asking: 'What if I could make my bike shift by merely thinking it?' Well, nobody except Toyota. Esenially, they worked with Parlee and Deeplocal to develop a super aerodynamic road bike for non-racers that can be shifter via iPhone or brain waves. All you need is you charged iPhone, a backpack of electronic gear, a helmet with neurotransmitters installed, and Di2. This 'mash up' was constructed from off the shelf parts - save the custom, wind tunnel tested Parlee - and does in fact work. But was anybody asking for it? Nope.
The reason nobody was thinking this question is that shifting is already easy, especially with Di2. An experienced rider, you know, the type who actually needs ultra precise shifting, doesn't need to think, 'shift up.' They just do it. Its called neural conditioning, or habituation; its second nature. Toggles can be placed at the hood, in the drop, or on the flat of the bar - wherever hands sit. Is hands free shifting necessary in any way?
Putting the question of whether there is any rationale for developing a cybernetic shifting system aside, we can consider the 'Prius philosphy' that underpins this project: aerodynamics, innovative design. Ok, neat idea, transfer those ideals. What about low carbon footprint, and energy conservation? Somehow those qualities of the Prius (and yes, those are perceived, as embodied energy and life cycle considerations might paint a different picture) don't come through in the PXP. Instead, we have a bike that requires a lot of electronics to perform a function that was carried out by downtube shifters for generations. In other words, its an environmental abomination. The bike's aerodynamics are moot under a rider who needs cybernetic shifting for lack of bike handling skills and training; one does not benefit much from aero frames below 30kph. So the inevitable question arises: is 'can' synonymous with 'should'? In other words, just because we can build a cybernetic bike, should we? Is cycling, or, more broadly, life, all about making everything easier? If so, to what end? Do we really want to be steered? Is this a paradigm example of technological rationality?